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November 20, 2012

Rumor Roundup

Tuesday, November 20

by Daniel Rathman

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After casting a wide net in search of an experienced candidate, the Blue Jays have finally settled on their new manager. Manny Acta? Nope. Jim Riggleman? Uh-uh. Jim Tracy? Try again. Mike Hargrove? Well, that would have been a sufficient blast from the past, but general manager Alex Anthopoulos instead dug into his own franchise’s recent history, bringing back John Gibbons, according to a late-night report by veteran Toronto Sun columnist Bob Elliott.

Earlier in the day, the Padres exercised a pair of club options to retain their incumbent manager, Bud Black, through the 2015 season. The move effectively guarantees that Black—who has guided the team to a 464-509 record over his first seven years in San Diego—will be around to coach the next wave of prospects rising through the Padres system.

Apart from Black’s extension, Gibbons’ late-night hiring, and Bud Selig’s approval of the blockbuster deal struck by the Blue Jays and Marlins last week, Monday brought plenty of smoke and very little fire. So, without further ado, here’s some of that smoke:

Mutual interest should eventually bring Raul Ibanez back to Yankees
Ibanez is 40 years old. He is a liability in the outfield. He cannot hit left-handed pitching—well, except for this one time. He offers nothing on the basepaths. And, when Ibanez woke up on Feb. 20, with spring training already underway, he did not yet have a job for the 2012 season.

But the Yankees, needing outfield depth, took a chance on Ibanez that day, bringing him to their camp in Florida on a one-year, $1.1 million deal. It was, in many ways, a perfect fit. New York offered Ibanez a part-time role, in which manager Joe Girardi would, for the most part, be able to mask his deficiencies against southpaws and in the outfield. As importantly, Yankee Stadium was the ideal place for Ibanez to thrive despite diminishing offensive skills: its stingy right-field dimensions enhanced his remaining pop and brought fans the aforementioned magical moments in Game Three of the American League Division Series.

The above spray chart, pasted from Ibanez’s Texas Leaguers page, illustrates how the short porch enabled the New York native to remain a serviceable hitter. Ibanez posted a .273/.349/.545 triple-slash line in the Bronx, compared to a .208/.269/.365 effort on the road, and 14 of his 19 round-trippers came at home. Almost all of those big flies landed to the foul side of the 385-foot mark in right field, and many of them came down just a few rows beyond the fence. Wall scrapers and moonshots count all the same, but many of Ibanez’s homers would have been harmless, warning-track flies had he signed with a different team in the spring.

It should come as no surprise, then, that—according to Ken Davidoff of the New York Post, who spoke with Ibanez directly—a new contract from the Yankees tops the veteran’s wish list. As Davidoff wrote, Cashman is currently focusing on more pressing issues, such as the starting rotation and Mariano Rivera’s future, and Ibanez will have to wait his turn. But Ibanez offers the Yankees a cheap power source that few other teams can tap into, and the Yankees offer Ibanez a unique opportunity to add another productive row to his baseball card. A reunion seems inevitable.

Jeremy Guthrie seeks three-year deal
Acquired from the Orioles in exchange for right-handers Matt Lindstrom and Jason Hammel, Guthrie spent his three-and-a-half months with the Rockies serving up 21 home runs, to go with a 45-to-31 K:BB, over 90 2/3 innings. That’s a 6.41 FIP, if you’re scoring at home, which wouldn’t exactly qualify a pitcher to demand a three-year contract.

Fortunately, a change-of-scenery trade that sent Guthrie to the Royals for Jonathan Sanchez—who was working on a nearly identical 6.40 FIP at the time—turned the 33-year-old’s season around. Guthrie made 14 starts for Kansas City, allowing only nine homers in 91 frames, and amassed a significantly improved 56-to-19 K:BB. The right-hander has never been much more than a league-average starter, having logged FIPs in the 4.50 range even during his heyday in Baltimore, but he was as effective for the Royals as he has been at any point in his major-league career.

That showing should help Guthrie’s agent, Brodie Van Wagenen, to line up enough interested suitors to secure a multi-year deal. But Guthrie—whose only documented, arm-related injury was the result of a biking accident in April—is the epitome of an innings eater: The Stanford product’s career-high WARP output is 1.1, attained in 2007 and 2010, and while he should contribute 200 serviceable innings, he’s no better than a number-four starter on a contender. Barring a spike in free-agent spending—which, as Ben Lindbergh wrote over the weekend, has yet to materialize, Van Wagenen will be hard-pressed to match Guthrie’s $8.2 million salary from 2012, and teams figure to be reluctant about going beyond two years.

In addition to the Royals, who, as ESPN’s Buster Olney tweeted, “remain interested” in retaining Guthrie, the Padres and Twins could make sense as possible destinations. Both of those teams have rotation vacancies, lack the funds to splurge on one of the big-name free agents, and offer the vast dimensions that Guthrie needs to avoid a repeat of his calamitous stay in Colorado.

Update (11:58 a.m. ET): Right on cue, the Royals have reportedly come to terms with Guthrie on a three-year, $25 million deal. 

Multiple teams showing interest in Lance Berkman
After spending most of the 2012 season on the disabled list—first with a strained calf, and then with a torn meniscus in his right knee—Berkman might be the biggest lottery ticket on the market this winter. The 36-year-old was a four-win player for the Cardinals in 2011, and he compiled a .381 on-base percentage in 32 games last season. But Berkman’s ability to stay on the field is a glaring question mark, and in the words of The Houston Chronicle’s Joseph Duarte, talks with interested teams are still in “tire-kicking mode.”

Per Duarte’s tweet, that list of teams includes the Astros, Phillies, Rays, and Red Sox. The rebuilding Astros would offer Berkman a chance to come full circle in the 14th season of his major-league career, while the other three teams could fit him into a timeshare at first base or as a designated hitter. Even with multiple bidders dialing agent Michael Moye’s number, Berkman is likely to take a significant pay cut from the $12 million check he cashed in 2012.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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